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Grand Central Terminal: New York City icon turns 100

Adrees Latif / Reuters

Morning commuters are silhouetted as they walk through the main concourse of the Grand Central Terminal, in New York on March 5, 2012.

By A. Pawlowski, NBC News contributor

Before airports started transporting – and frustrating – travelers on a massive scale, there was New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Friday marks 100 years since the first set of keys was handed to the terminal’s station master, with the first train leaving just after midnight on the following day. Shuttling millions of commuters since, the terminal – with its vast spaces and lovely architecture – has become a destination in itself.

Through the hustle and bustle of Grand Central, a voice at its center helps guide passengers to their destinations. After 40 years with the MTA, Jake Kaloidas will retire just as the station marks its 100 years. Produced by John Makely, additional footage by Natalia Jimenez.

The city is celebrating the big birthday with a public rededication ceremony, live performances and the opening of the “Grand by Design” exhibit.

“I love, love, love Grand Central Terminal,” said Justin Ferate, a historian and longtime New York tour guide. “It’s truly one of the greatest buildings in this country if not the world.”

Ferate often instructs visitors to pick their favorite airport and then picture going there twice a day, five days a week for decades. He then asks: How many people are feeling warm, fuzzy thoughts? Not many raise their hands, but it’s different with Grand Central, which regular commuters actually like, he said.

Hal Morey / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

1930s: Beams of sunlight stream through the windows at Grand Central Terminal, in New York City.

“Grand Central is a major icon in the city,” added Anthony Robins, author of “Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark.”

“(It) just has this breadth and scale and sense of grandeur that you can’t be in that part of town and not notice it.”

NBC News asked Ferate and Robins to share some insider facts about the iconic building.

Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

With hundreds of people moving through each day, Grand Central Terminal turns 100 on Feb. 2, 2013, and remains one of the most visited icons of New York City.

Don’t call it Grand Central Station: This is actually the third Grand Central on the site. The original was Grand Central Depot, completed in 1871, and then rebuilt as Grand Central Station in 1899-1900, Robins said. Grand Central Terminal was opened in 1913 and that is the correct way to refer to the landmark.

Today, Grand Central Station is the name of the on-site post office, but not the famous building. “I always say, if you call it Grand Central Station, then everyone knows you’re a tourist,” Ferate said.

The Main Concourse is laid out in “human ratios:” Each block of stone that makes up the floor is one walking step wide and one running step long, and each is a slightly different color, Ferate said. When you’re sprinting to catch the train it’s like running across a checker board based on your anatomy, so you don’t hit anybody, he added. In fact, Grand Central is designed to accommodate the human form, so everything is waist level and elbow level to ease the travel experience.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

People walk through Grand Central Terminal as others gather in the Apple store on the day before the famed Manhattan transit hub turns 100 years old on Jan. 31, in New York City.

Try out the whispering gallery: If two people stand in the diagonal corners of the square foyer in front the Grand Central Oyster Bar and whisper, the sound carries across the arched ceiling. The effect is similar inside the eatery, so Ferate advised against going there for “illicit love.” “You can listen into the conversation taking place in another part of the restaurant,” he warned. “If you’re messing around, chances are pretty good you’re going to get caught.”

A giant missile once stood in the Main Concourse: A 63-foot tall, 5-ton Redstone rocket was displayed at Grand Central in 1957 as Cold War tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union mounted. But it wasn’t unusual to see such a spectacle inside the landmark. “They had exhibits of all kinds at all times in Grand Central because it’s the great big public space that everybody knew,” Robins said.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

The 59 stars shine as part of the backwards-painted zodiac set in gold leaf constellations span the ceiling of the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal in New York, on Jan. 25.

Look for odd mementos in the ceiling: Grand Central Terminal is known for its “constellation ceiling” depicting a starry sky and signs of the zodiac. But sharp-eyed visitors may some unusual extras, such as the small hole where the stabilizing cable was dropped to secure the above-mentioned rocket, Ferate said.

The ceiling also sports a dark spot -- a small portion of grime that was intentionally left untouched after a thorough cleaning in the 1990s, he added. The stain turned out to be caused by cigarette smoke.

Go there for the shopping: “Grand Central has been made into a vast new destination for New Yorkers. So most of the people in the terminal at any given moment are probably not going to a train, they’re in to shop, to buy food, to go to a restaurant, to go to the Apple store,” Robins said.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

People are blurred in a long exposure as they walk through Grand Central Terminal on the day before the famed Manhattan transit hub turns 100 years old, on Jan. 31, in New York City.

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